In opening the way for development of a superstore on the outskirts of a Shropshire town, the High Court has given important guidance on the correct application of the ‘sequential test’ when balancing the merits of one out-of centre proposal against another with the objective of protecting the viability and vitality of the town centre.
A planning inspector had granted planning permission to a developer for the demolition of existing buildings and construction of a store and associated amenities on a brownfield site on the edge of Newport. The inspector’s decision was challenged by the local authority and by another developer who was promoting competing proposals for a food store on a greenfield site.
In dismissing the appeal, the Court emphasised that inspectors are not obliged to interpret the sequential test contained within paragraphs 24 and 27 of the National Planning Policy Framework in a rigid or mechanistic fashion and that the provisions are ‘guidelines not tramlines’.
In ruling that the correct application of the sequential test is capable of giving rise to ‘no clear winner’, the Court found that the inspector, after carrying out a thorough review of the proposals’ competing merits, was entitled to take the view that they were ‘sequentially equal’ and that there was no material difference between them in terms of their accessibility to the town centre.
The inspector was in the best possible position to assess what weight should be given to the relative accessibility of the prospective sites and there was no legitimate basis on which her conclusions of fact and law could be impugned. Other grounds of challenge to her decision were also dismissed.